The Carpenter

For Lahne

You did not give me life,
But, in choosing her and four of us,
Showed me how love lives
Inside a man when he enfolds
A small girl’s mother in the pause
Of making dinner in a kitchen,
Or calls her My Bride,
A smile in the way he says
Her names, first and middle,
Rocking her to the quiet song
Of the pressure cooker’s
Clicking weight spurting steam.
When we ate, my mother
Served you first.
When she laid down the law,
Your posture—voice calm and firm—
Made us honor her.

A grown woman now, I know:
You did not have to.

You did not have to teach me
How to tie a knot with seven twists,
Hold down fins with a tight grip
To gently pull a hook,
Nor gut, nor skillfully filet a fish.
You did not have to cut a door
For my dog into the shed you built
Nor give her straw for a bed
Nor build a cable run.
You did not have to lend me tools
To make an elephant of a dowel
Nor bet it was impossible
Nor grin and give me a dollar
When I proved you wrong.
You did not have to sing to me
Of pretty bubbles in your pick-up
Nor teach me the joy of ridiculous riddles
Whose answers’ only sense is to laugh.
You did not have to take us—
Take us to the lake to water ski,
Nor thrill us with the roaring outboard,
Sink the stern with speed
To lift us, perched upon the bow,
Children skyward thrown.
You did not have to teach me
Water’s words: port and starboard.
You did not have to wake first
After a night of steady rain
To make us bacon, mush and eggs
While we slept in sagging tents.
You did not have to cry
When my sisters and I sang hymns
Nor hold my hand with your rough one—
Fragrant with Corn Husker’s lotion,
Watching sitcoms on the couch.

You did not have to.

You could not have known
Thirty years later I would see
A carpenter’s pencil—sharpened,
Like yours, into facets with a knife,
Resting flat on my love’s handmade cabinet,
Waiting for his pocket, its lead scent
Praying for the wooden day to begin—
And a deep joy would rise in me
Remembering my true father,
The carpenter who built
A home in me for this.


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